Gem & Lita beside a vintage car at Revolutionary Square
Havana has just turned 500 years old, a milestone in its colourful history with the last blaze of Western capitalism in 1959. Most travellers flock to this capital city of 2.13 million people while others seek the sugary white sand beaches of Varadero, Cayo Coco or Playas del Este.
While in Cuba a day or two is a must-do in the “Sleeping Beauty” City of Havana, which literally can be a trip into the past. If you are a history buff, you will love Old Havana. The word “Havana” comes from “Habaguanex”, the name of a local chief.
You’ll hardly find a place on the planet with so many old American cars in use but in Havana. More than half a century ago because of trade embargo new cars could not be imported any more so necessity has become not only the mother of invention but also of automobile maintenance. These 1950s classic cars have now become also vintage taxis which are readily available and cheap.
Getting around in Havana? We love the hop-on, hop-off tour double decker Habana Bus Tour. It’s one of the best ways to see the historic city and a quick way to explore the top tourist points of interest such as Old Havana (Habana Viejo), Plaza de la Revolucion, Cathedral de San Cristobal, the Malecon, El Capitolio (National Capitol Building), Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, and the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro. At a cost of 10 CUC (once you buy the ticket it’s valid the whole day), starting from Parque Central in the main downtown opposite the Hotel Inglaterra and Hotel Central Park, , you can go up and down the bus as many times as you like, by getting off the designated stops, to explore the area on foot, then catch the next bus again to move on to visit another place. We usually occupy the upper deck because it offers a great vantage point for panoramic view as we go through the city and of course, take pictures.
Spending several hours at the Plaza de la Revolucion enables us to view and admire the facades of the country’s Offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Communications that are prominently dominated by the matching steel memorials to the most beloved heroes of the Cuban Revolution , i.e. Che Guevara , with the quotation “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) and Camilo Cinfuegos, with the quotation “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel). Originally, it was the Civic Square to glorify the capitalist ruler of Cuba but following the Cuban Revolution Castro used it for huge political rallies.
Wherever you go in Havana particularly down the cobblestone streets of Havana Vieja take time to listen to the local music which is quite ubiquitous in Cuba. The Cubans are extremely musical and you’ll see them dancing, singing or playing instruments. Cuban music is linked to their Spanish heritage brought by the Spanish colonial rule for more than 300 years.
While in Cuba don’t criticize Fidel Castro, don’t take pictures of the police, don’t drink from the tap, don’t blow your nose in public, don’t spit in the street, don’t bring bling, don’t take taxis without a license, and don’t talk about politics.
More to come on our next travellations.